Posts Tagged ‘Georgia’

On Tour(ing)

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

By Alan Gilbert

We are in Ljubljana, the second stop on our European tour. It should have been the third country, but what would have been the Orchestra’s first trip to the Republic of Georgia was cancelled abruptly a few weeks ago by the presenters – that is to say, by the government of Georgia. I have not heard a convincing justification for this, and my friend Lisa Batiashvili, the brilliant Georgian violinist who was to have been the soloist in the planned concerts, and who was instrumental, in every way, in paving the way for our putative visit, is baffled as well. She is also embarrassed, and deeply disappointed that her efforts to bring the New York Philharmonic to her home country ended so sadly. I know from speaking with her of her love of her country, and how much she would like to help shape and enrich its musical life. Who knows now when those noble impulses will be able to come to fruition?
Since the Philharmonic had some unexpected extra days in New York City, we were able to add a non-subscription concert to our schedule. It was extremely fortunate that Pinchas Zukerman was available to give another performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto, which he played with us the week before. Since we were rehearsing the Academic Festival Overture for the tour, we were able to create an all-Brahms program that was filled out by the Fourth Symphony (another tour piece). Non-subscription concerts have to be sold from the ground up, obviously, and this one was only announced two weeks before it happened. It was therefore especially exciting that the concert sold out, and there was a real sense of event in the hall that evening. The Orchestra played unbelievably, and those of us onstage felt a palpable connection with the audience, who responded with real warmth. It was a great send-off for our tour.

The first concert of the tour happened on Sunday, in Belgrade. We were the closing event of Bemus, a two-week-long festival the city hosts. We played in the enormous Sava Center (seating capacity close to 4,000!), which was literally packed to the rafters. The previous night I had had dinner with U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia Mary Burce Warlick and some of her staff, and they told us that they had never heard of the hall being sold out, explaining that usually the upper section is not even opened. And this, when the ticket prices were apparently 20 times what concerts tend to cost in Belgrade! It appears that there was a kind of frenzied excitement surrounding the orchestra’s visit. Part of this may have been the fact that it was actually a return visit: Leonard Bernstein brought the Philharmonic to Belgrade on the legendary round-the-world tour of 1959. One of the presenters made us a gift of an original program book and ticket stub from that concert – items that will be treasured additions to the Philharmonic Archives.
Sunday’s concert itself was a big success, and it felt appropriate to be able to play Bernstein’s “Lonely Town” as an encore. There was a sigh of recognition from the audience when I announced the piece – a sign of a connection between an American orchestra and an audience that would have been practically unimaginable five years ago, and absolutely impossible only ten years ago. It was a good feeling.

(For more information on Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, visit